Magazine Feature / People

Noted architect Cab Childress dies

Prominent Colorado architect Guion Cabell “Cab” Childress died Nov. 17 after a long illness. He was 74.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Childress earned a bachelor of arts in architecture from the University of Colorado in 1958. During his career, he taught at the University of Denver, University of Colorado and Kansas State University.

He also served as president of the Colorado Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, architect’s chair at the Colorado Historical Review Board and as a member of the Design Review Board for the University of Colorado System. Childress was honored in 2003 as Denver Architect of the Year and Colorado Architect of the Year by the American Institute of Architects.

Childress began his nearly half-century-long architectural career in 1961 with the Denver firm of W.C. Muchow. By 1966, he had opened his own firm, Cabell Childress Architects.

In the late 1970s, he designed a Grand County home for Daniel Ritchie. Ritchie became chancellor of the University of Denver in 1989, and in 1992, he asked Childress for his advice on a DU project that became the Daniel L. Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness.

By 1993, Childress was hard at work designing additional University of Denver projects. He became University architect in 1994, a post he held until his retirement in 1999. Childress, always recognizable by his trademark bow ties and straw hat, turned the reins over to his protégé, Mark Rodgers, but continued to consult with DU as University architect emeritus until his death.

“I met Cab in July of 1991,” Rodgers recalls. “My wife, Valerie, had sent me a list of architectural firms in Colorado that might be willing to give me an interview. She wrote by Cab’s name: ‘Best designer in Colorado, really small office. You don’t have a chance.’ By my good fortune, he offered to talk to me on a Friday afternoon. He flipped through my portfolio in what seemed like a few seconds and said to me, ‘Where have you been?’”

Rodgers had been working on a New Jersey prison for a Philadelphia firm. Within a few weeks, he was working with Childress on the Evergreen Public Library, the Pagosa Springs Post Office and what became Granny’s Castle, a Grand County retreat for Daniel Ritchie.

Childress, who once described the $450 million University of Denver capital building program as his personal “moon shot,” created a harmonious palette of copper, sandstone, limestone and red brick to create a new sense of place for the DU campus. He and Rodgers led a team of architects responsible for designing buildings intended to last for hundreds of years, employing construction techniques such as the use of load-bearing masonry for exterior walls and durable materials such as copper roofing.

Childress was the principal architect of signature DU buildings — F.W. Olin Hall, the Ritchie Center, the Stapleton Tennis Pavilion, the Daniels College of Business and the Robert & Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts. Rodgers continues to implement Childress’ vision. Since 1997, the University has added 13 new buildings, and new academic, Greek and residential facilities are planned.

“Cab’s passion for the way buildings work together is what made him such a great campus architect,” Rodgers says. “As you see his projects, such as the Eagle County Government Center, note how the roads come to it. At Roxborough State Park, you appreciate how the visitor’s center is carefully placed amongst the red rocks. You quickly realize it’s not just the buildings; it’s the landscape, the forms and how all the elements fit together.”

During his long career, Childress designed a number of important buildings around the Rocky Mountain Region. Notable examples are the Foothills Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Fort Collins, Colo.; the Samuel Gary Oil Producer’s headquarters in Inverness Park; the George T. O’Malley Visitor Center at Roxborough State Park; the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Englewood, Colo.; and the University of Colorado Theatre and Dance Building.

Childress was born March 13, 1932, and grew up in Tampa, Fla. It was there he met his future wife, Penelope (Pen) Nace. Childhood sweethearts, they began dating when they were 13 and were married June 19, 1954. After 50 years of marriage, she preceded him in death in 2004. Childress once told an interviewer he became an architect because Penelope, then his girlfriend, told him she wouldn’t marry a forest ranger.

Childress is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His children are Penelope Alexander of Grand Junction, Colo.; James Childress of Centerbrook, Conn.; David Childress of Meeteesee, Wyo.; and John Childress of Denver.

A memorial service will be held at St. John’s Cathedral, 1350 Washington St., Denver, on Dec. 30 at 10 a.m.

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